Thursday, August 19, 2004

A Norm for the Anglican Communion – a proposal.

[A word especially to my friends and colleagues in the Prayer Book Societies of the Western part of the Anglican Communion]

The Anglican Communion of Churches possesses what it has chosen to call in recent times “instruments of unity”. These are: the See of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of all Anglican Bishops, the Anglican Consultative Council (clergy & laity) and the Primates’ Meeting. The two latter are of recent vintage.

Yet it needs more than “instruments of unity” if it is to stay together as a viable family and fellowship of local, autonomous provinces! It needs also a common basic canon law, a set of canons which are in the corpus of canon law of each of the thirty-eight provinces. These canons would establish the relation of each province to the other provinces and to the See of Canterbury and would require inter-dependency with other provinces as a required way of being and working. If such were in place it would obviously limit the autonomy of each province, slow down or eliminate local innovation in any one province and lead to cooperation in any moves to introduce or to reject anything new or controversial.

But the Communion of Churches needs even more than the instruments of unity and a basic shared canon law!

It also needs a basic formulary or doctrinal standard in order to have the basis of a doctrinal unity. Unity based only on the college of bishops is not sufficient and, further, the basis of unity needs to be more than the doctrine of the ecumenical Creeds. What is needed by a liturgical church, as is the Anglican, is doctrine that is doxological – a prayer book that is also a standard of doctrine, The Book of Common Prayer.

Without doubt, the edition of The Book of Common Prayer that has been the most widely printed, distributed, translated into other languages and used worldwide is that of 1662. Of course, in being used in different cultures and countries, some of its English parts have had to be changed in order to make it applicable to different contexts – e.g. in terms of prayers for leaders, local holidays and special days.

People may think that these new editions of this Prayer Book produced especially for use in places like the U.S.A. (1928) or Canada (1962) or South Africa (1954) are superior in liturgical terms to the classic edition of 1662, that the children are better than the parent. Let them so think – no problem. Others may think that the first edition of the English Prayer Book, that of 1549 is superior to all that followed. Again, no problem: there is no need for them to change their judgment.

The proposal being made here is not to displace the use of local editions of the Book of Common Prayer that are cherished, but to place the BCP of 1662 in the canon law common to all the member provinces of the Communion – in the canon law which establishes the relation of the provinces to each other and to a received heritage of worship, doctrine, discipline and polity. And to let the BCP of 1662 be, what it was in practice if not in law until the 1960s, the formulary or the doctrinal norm of the Anglican Communion. Within the same canons being proposed, the Lambeth Quadrilateral can then be, as it was intended to be, not a confession of faith for Anglicans but rather the basis upon which the Anglican Communion enters into eucharistic communion with other churches.

Why this move to establish the BCP 1662 as the doxological, doctrinal norm and to place it at the center of the wheel as the hub?

Because, as stated above, the Anglican Communion really and truly needs a genuinely godly glue to fasten it together in the trials and tribulations it is facing and will face in the decades to come. And also because, not only are there genuine translations, and regional or national editions of, the BCP 1662 (e.g. in Canada, 1962) , but also, and ominously, since 1979 there have been prayer books produced by provinces using the ancient title of the BCP but being in fact by their very nature and content “Books of Alternative Services” (e.g., in the USA in 1979, in Wales in 1984, in the West Indies in 1995 and in Ireland in 2004). Therefore, Anglicans are genuinely confused as to what actually is the BCP or a BCP and which prayer book is really and truly The Book of Common Prayer? There is needed a clear, definitive Book that can be called by all in the Communion, The BCP. That is, a book which is really and truly a doxological proclamation of Anglican faith and practice.

By the BCP 1662 is meant the actual Prayer Book as such along with the Ordinal, the services of ordination for deacons, priests and bishops. (The Thirty-Nine Articles is not included in this proposal for practical reasons since this confession of faith is not doxological doctrine as such.)

Peter Toon, August 19th 2004.

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